March 16-22: Including J. Edgar and December Boys

by Fiona Rae / 07 March, 2013
Clint Eastwood's biopic explores how the FBI director held onto power for nearly 40 years.

J. Edgar, Saturday

Joe Dirt (TV2, 8.30pm). The story of an American naïf that is really an excuse for white trash and pooh jokes. David Spade plays the eponymous Joe, a mulleted idiot who is looking for his parents; the real snark is left to Denis Miller, an LA DJ who gets Joe to relate his sad story on air. The sort of movie that is best left for 12-year-old boys to enjoy. (2001) **

Snow Cake (Maori, 8.30pm). Autism is used again as a metaphor for self-acceptance and redemption in this Sundance favourite that is like two movies in one: Alan Rickman’s attempts to come to terms with a terrible past event, and Sigourney Weaver’s uninhibited behaviour as an adult with autism. Rickman does sad-sackery like no one else, but Weaver is a collection of physical tics and verbal eccentricities that grate; she seems to be playing an autistic child, rather than an adult. Nevertheless, the movie isn’t too preachy, and Rickman and Carrie-Anne Moss do some nice work together even as Weaver is jumping on a trampoline behind them metaphorically shouting “look at me!” (2006) **½

J. Edgar (Sky Movies, Sky 020, 8.30pm). Perhaps director Clint Eastwood was trying to be even-handed in his treatment of FBI director J Edgar Hoover, but instead he turns out a muddled biopic that misses out some important events in American political -history: the House Un-American Activities Committee, for example. Eastwood does, however, show how Hoover fiercely controlled his image and managed to hold on to power from 1935 until his death, in office, in 1972. The elephant in the room is Hoover’s sexuality, and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) is in no doubt that Hoover’s assistant, Clyde Tolson, was his life partner, even if they did not have a physical relationship. With prosthetics, Leo DiCaprio resembles Hoover, but it’s difficult to forget who you are watching. (2011) ***

Who’s That Girl (TV2, 10.20pm). Perhaps the age of this 80s-era Madonna vehicle will give it a retro glow, although it seems unlikely. Fresh from the failure of Shanghai Surprise, Madge decided to reboot her Desperately Seeking Susan persona and do a screwball comedy. It’s the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl story again: just out of the slammer, she shakes up stuffy lawyer Griffin Dunne. “This derivative film is missing just two things,” said Leonard Maltin. “Charm and humour.” (1987) **

December Boys (TV1, 11.30pm). An adaptation of Michael Noonan’s 1963 coming-of-age novel that is notable for the presence of Daniel Radcliffe in one of his first post-Harry Potter roles. He does a serviceable Aussie accent as one of four orphans given a holiday at the seaside with salty old, er, seadog Jack Thompson and his wife, Kris McQuade. Coming-of-age events ensue – sex and smoking – but the need for family is at the movie’s core. The novel was set in the 1930s, and although director Rod Hardy shifts the story forward 30 years, he still can’t help over-sentimentalising. (2007) **½


Year One (TV2, 8.30pm). Awkward historical bromance that hinges on the one joke of Jack Black and Michael Cera transporting modern-day personas back to cavemen times. Or is it biblical times? The movie doesn’t know. Like being hit over the head with a rock. (2009) **

X2, Sunday

X2 (TV3, 8.30pm). Only Joss Whedon, it seems, has solved the riddle of the ensemble cast, and that was by keeping his ensemble in The Avengers down to a relatively manageable six. By contrast, the X-Men franchise suffers from over-population, and although the first X-Men movie kept a lid on it, X2 starts the slide that became an avalanche in movie No 3. X2 also retreads the same ground: the battle between mutants and humans, and the disagreement between Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and Ian McKellen’s Magneto. There is a subplot love triangle between Wolverine, Cyclops and Jean Grey, but the movie ends up as a bunch of set action pieces. (2003) ***

Empties (Maori, 8.30pm). The most commercially successful film in the history of the Czech Republic, according to one online review anyway. The movie is made by the same father-and-son team who made the Oscar-winning Kolya, Zdenek and Jan Sverak. Zdenek stars as a grumpy retired teacher who takes a job in a supermarket and decides to reignite the spark in his marriage. (2007) ***½

Frost/Nixon (TV3, 11.10pm). A movie that is based on an anticlimax – a confession that never came – but then, it’s really about two men chasing redemption. In David Frost’s case, he wanted to show the tele-vision world that the lightweight could be a heavyweight, and Richard Nixon … well. Michael Sheen and Frank Langella brilliantly reprise their stage roles as the interviewer and interviewee; Sheen’s Frost is slick and obsequious, while Langella’s Nixon is all slippery guile and clever charm. Although this is a movie about a television interview, director Ron Howard, who is so good at the straightforward -narrative, keeps up the momentum and tension. (2008) ****


Batman Begins, Friday

Batman Begins (TV2, 8.00pm). It took eight years for the Batman mythology to recover from Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin (forever known as the One That Nearly Killed the Franchise), but -Christopher Nolan gave Batman his biggest reboot yet, thanks to a much darker graphic-novel-style examination of Bruce Wayne’s tortured soul. Nolan, whose previous films were Memento and Insomnia, treats Batman as a man rather than a character and the film as more a drama than an action blockbuster (“the feel-bad movie of the summer”, joked Salon). In 2005, Christian Bale’s Batman seemed deep, broody and new, if possibly in need of a Strepsil. There are some moments of levity to relieve the soul-searching, especially Bale’s interactions with Morgan Freeman (Batman’s version of Q) and Gary Oldman (Sgt Gordon), and there’s an awesome Batmobile chase scene as well. (2005) ****

Films are rated out of 5: * (abysmal) to ***** (amazing).

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